Posts tagged landscaping

The Pros and Cons – Reflecting on the Year

April 1st marks our first anniversary of moving to the Queendom. I still catch myself telling people that we just moved here but, like newly-weds, that status only lasts 365 days. In that mysterious way of time, this year feels like it has passed in both a blink of an eye and a lifetime. So long ago, we were staring wide-eyed at the immensity of it all – the pond, the acreage, the too-large house, the space, the wildlife, the quiet – and now we continue to stare widely at it but in a more understanding way. Now we have figured out what things need to be done regularly and we fall into step with our unwritten after-work chores and weekend tasks. When we look out across the pond or walk the property, we expect to find something new and exciting.

The point of this blog has been to help us remember the events of our new-found life. But, there have been more events than time permitted to sit at a computer and write. Here is the reader’s digest version of the pros and cons we discovered here:

Pros

unbelievable peace and quiet

we discover something new around here almost everyday

easy access to multiple trailheads

endless trail systems to explore (see alongapath)

short commutes to work

surrounded by trees – not a building in sight

easy access to delicious real farm food – veggies, fruit, meat, seafood, cheese, eggs, etc.

ducks, deer, birds, mink, bears, owls and frogs live here and are sighted often

new chicks and the hope of our own fresh eggs by summer’s end

a regular feeling of satisfaction from completing projects

the brewery is almost complete and the taps will be running soon

groceries, hardware and all other shopping is less than 10 minutes away

endless  possibilities for the Queendom – more so than we ever imagined

Cons

unpacking – it seems to go on and on! So much space and distractions have allowed us to be lazy on that front

the landscape project is huge, very long-term and often daunting

our landscaping crew from last summer did a merely passable job and charged too much money

invasive and unwanted plants are difficult to deal with and chronic, it seems

often a big effort results in a minuscule difference (such as digging out thistles and alders)

the property is wet, marshy, swampy and ugly in places

drainage issues have had us on high alarm a few times (not yet documented!)

our list of potential construction projects is long and very involved (deck, hot tub, garage, chicken coop, island bridge and pergola, etc.)

we are far, far away from our friends and we haven’t really connected with people here

time does not move slower out here.  We need more of it

Not surprisingly, the Pros out-count and out-weigh the Cons. There have been many things happen that we didn’t expect and a few true surprises, both positive and negative.  But we seem to have struck a balance with managing it all and are trying to keep our to-do list short and within reason. Neither of us would go back to our previous life. This smaller town/bigger space lifestyle suits us both so well and our only wish is that we had started on this rural path long, long ago.

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Burn Baby, Burn!

We have found an added bonus of having a large piece of property. Bonfires!

Last spring, during our long stint of yard work weekends, we managed to accumulate about five separate burn piles. These piles consisted mostly of the alders that we dug out and other random branches and brush that had been left by the previous owner or blown down in the frequent wind storms. Being law-abiding citizens, I inquired at the fire department about the fire regulations for rural properties. I was instantly handed a burn permit which allows burning any time between October and May. And so the fun began.

We started cautiously with a small fire of branches that were laying around an area that FM insisted needed to be cut and tended. Once we got the fire going, we began working hard at collecting all the nearby debris. In no time at all, we had a tidied up a large area and had earned our fire-roasted weiners.

Small, controlled and quaint

Small, controlled and quaint

The second burn was a huge undertaking. The previous owner had used his excavator to make a very high pile of branches, logs and garbage (?) which we decided was too large for us to handle and too close to some trees.  So we made a small fire ring at a safe distance and, all day long, we hauled stuff from his large pile to our smaller fire pit, separating out the nasty non-combustibles as we went. This bonfire was an all-day affair, leaving us both exhausted and sweaty by the time the sun went down. (Do I need to mention that we each lost all our arm-hair?) But this fire made the biggest improvement to our surroundings and, with each successive burn, we became more comfortable with managing the Queendom in this manner.

This photo lacks perspective because that pile of branches is more than 5 feet tall.

This photo lacks perspective but that pile of branches is more than 5 feet tall.

But the bonfire to end all bonfires was made by our landscaping crew (a series of blog posts not-yet-written). After clearing out a section of our pond that had tree stumps, branches and whole tree trunks in it, the crew made a bonfire that towered above us. This fire required a special permit, an excavator at hand and a water pump which could use pond water to extinguish it, if necessary. This fire burned for three days.

I can feel my eyebrows singeing from here.

I can feel my eyebrows singeing from here

When a fire is this big, it can burn pretty well anything

It may not be the best thing for the environment and I’m sure I’ll get air quality comments from somebody, but it is the way we roll out here in the boonies.  Come on by and roast a weinie with us next time!

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Another Lesson from Nature

I went on wintery walk this morning to collect the mail and tour our little street. The neighbourhood consists of about 20 homes, set on 5-acres a piece. Some homes are set right on the street but others have long winding driveways disappearing into the forest with no sign of any building. The homes you can see seem to ooze character, with steeply slanting roofs and thin trails of smoke coming out of the chimneys. Many have quaint window boxes or raised beds covered in the snow blanket, with only the tips of kale sticking out the top.

I was struck (once again) by how raw our property seems to be. Although our house is set far back from the road, it is completely exposed from overlogging. How long will it take for the forest to reclaim our plot? Will we live long enough to see that picture?

A property only an owner could love

A property only an owner could love

As I wandered and wondered these things, I spotted a small nest in the low bare branches by the road. I got as close as possible without getting poked in the eye and took a couple of pictures. To my surprise, there was a tiny speckled egg inside. Being late December and barely one degree above freezing, this little egg must have been leftover from last spring. I will have to do a bit of research to see which bird laid and then abandoned this little treasure.

It was hardly noticeable

It was hardly noticeable

Is it a cluster of leaves or a nest?

Is it a cluster of leaves or a nest?

Is that what I think it is?

Is that what I think it is? (my fingers give reference to its size)

I'm pretty sure that it is a dark-eyed junco nest and egg.

I’m pretty sure that it is a dark-eyed junco nest and egg.

As I trudged on home, highly aware of the chittery juncos and warblers in the treetops, I decided that the birds don’t seem to mind the aesthetics of the Queendom so it must not be worth dwelling on.  Another lesson from nature.

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You Have to Start Somewhere!

With the arrival of summer, so came the arrival of our families. Everyone was keen on visiting our new home and checking out our rural lifestyle. I am proud to show off our place, with its wrap-around deck and new-car feel.

Home Sweet Home – but no garden in sight

But stepping back and looking at the photos that were taken, I can’t help but notice the abruptness of the modern house plonked in the center of wild land.  There is no gentle transition from wild to domestic. When settled on the porch, sipping a mug of something, I find that I am not really pulled to step off the deck into the surrounding nature.  We need to create a warmer feel that helps blend our home into its setting.

A garden is needed.  A small garden at the front of the house which will soften the edge of the gravel driveway and give the impression that the house has naturally sprouted and grown here.

A bit of a junk yard has developed at the side of the house as we continue to figure out where everything should go.

Can I count these weeds as a garden?

A lovely view of the weeds, concrete supports and our spider web collection!

With the beginning of the school year upon me yet no class to call my own, I decided that my September project would be the front entrance garden. I figured that a little hard physical labour would have me begging for the sub finder phone to ring.

I started the project by digging up the weeds and scraping up the gravel. I filled about six wheelbarrows of gravel just trying to find soil beneath it.

Next, I pulled out the tiller. Once again, FM had insisted earlier in the year that we would need a tiller and, once again, he was right. I fired up this tough little machine and next thing I know, I was being dragged around the driveway area like a rag doll! I spent the better part of two days churning up the earth and liberating rocks the size of watermelons. I managed to free up the soil to a depth of about 40-45 cm.

I headed out to the local hardware and garden stores where I selected a bunch of shade-loving, deer-resistant plants.  This is the north side of the house and receives only 5 hours of full sun at the height of summer. I want this area to be evergreen yet get a bit of colour variation through small flowers and variegated leaves.  I insisted on getting a few dwarf conifers (or specimen trees) that will anchor the garden yet never grow too high to obstruct the view from the porch. I also purchased that ugly black garden border in order to keep the soil from running all over the driveway during heavy rains.

The toughest part of this project was inserting the ugly black garden border. I guess I was in a hurry to get to the plants and it took freakin’ forever to nestle the plastic deeply enough. After that, I simply mixed in a few bags of topsoil and arranged the plants in an orderly way.  After planting, I covered the beds with a black mulch that really makes the plant colours pop.

A sitka spruce ‘papoose’; 2 azaleas, 2 heathers, 2 Euonymus – one columnar and one trailing

A weeping Norway spruce, 2 more azaleas, 2 more heathers and 2 more Euonymus

A Gold Coin dwarf Scots Pine – perhaps my favourite!

I used all those watermelon-sized rocks to cover and hide the concrete deck pillars. I am particularly pleased with the effect.  The log round works as a natural step up to the porch.

Would you believe that this project took me about two weeks from start to end?  I didn’t work on it the whole time, mind you. I will have to take one more photo of the front again for comparison   Although it is a small area (3 ft deep x 25 ft long), it is a step in the right direction.  And it makes a world of difference when you arrive at the front door.  Come on by and have a look!

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Alder Creepshow

If you let nature alone for a while, it will erase all evidence of mankind. Books and movies have endlessly explored this fact but there is nothing quite like seeing it happen before your own eyes. We have only been tenants of the Queendom for a handful of months but we have begun to notice the ever-creeping, never-sleeping growth of nature.  It is enough to keep you awake at night for fear of being taken over by some strange moss or strangled by a vine (note the reference to ‘the lonesome death of jordy verrill’)

Here is the case in point.  The first photo was taken in April on the day we moved in. The second I took today from approximately the same spot.

April – grassy shoreline and clear view of the house.

October – treed shoreline and slightly obscured view of the house.

You may see a sunny spring day in the first or the range of colours that autumn brings in the second.  You may see that a tree has replaced pensive-looking FM as he surveys the Queendom – but I see ALDERS.  In six months, the alders have grown as if priming up for the London Olympics, as high as seven feet tall in places.  They surround the pond and have taken up residence in a few other  places. In the second photo, you can’t even see the kitchen door or the back porch!

They are called a pioneer species since they are the first tree to take hold after soil disruption. They are ‘nitrogen fixers’ meaning that they are able to create nitrogen and improve the soil for successive plants. Our pond was dug out less than two years ago so it is a prime example of disturbed soil that needs more nutrients. I knew all this in theory but it is truly something else to see them grow right before your eyes.

April – no alders

October – plenty o’ alders, all leafed out along the island’s edge

These two are taken from our bedroom balcony (yes – we  have a balcony off our bedroom! Shakespeare is fairly common place around here) The noteworthy thing about these photos is the LACK of alders on the near side of the pond. Guess why…

You’re right.  We have hand dug them all out. It is no easy task either. Firstly the soil is heavy on the clay content, making it like hardened cement all summer long. Also, alders tend to snap off right where the stem meets the roots, but the root will continue to grow new stems if the main one is broken off.

So with my favourite tool – the asymmetrical tree-planting staff – I have been diligently digging up the whole root system of each and every alder. So far I have made it around about 1/8th of the pond edge and that doesn’t include the worst offender – the island.

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What Were You Thinking, Scotland?

Thistles. They have become the bane of my existence, here at the Queendom.

milk-thistle-flower

Beautiful only in photographs.

If you do a little research, you will find the “Canada Thistle” classified as a noxious weed in the six largest provinces of Canada and in 43 states. They not only spread by tufted seed heads, like a dandelion, but also through their taproots, which can grow 6 METERS in a single year (that’s 20 ft, my US friends)! A single taproot can send up a new shoot every 10 cm. The mathematical calculations required to figure out how many plants can grow from a single thistle are far too complex for my mind. Besides, my problem does not concern the spread of a single plant. We have five acres of mostly cleared land that thistles claimed as their own and I think the battle was won before we even moved in.

This field of thistles isn’t mine, but this is a fair approximation of my current battle.

By mid-summer, the thistles began to flower and the magnitude of the issue came into view. I couldn’t sit back and watch those flowers go to seed. I had to take action, no matter how inconsequential my efforts would be. With FM’s handy old tree-planting staff (my shovel of choice for all things gardening) and thick leather work gloves, I headed off yonder to show them who reigns the Queendom now.

Honestly, these plants make me look diminuitive!

Well, I’ll be. These things are huge! Many of them tower over me, reaching over 6 ft tall. I spent the better part of two weekends digging and pulling and piling thistle plants. The cull will have to be burned once the fire ban is over. We sure can’t compost them!

If you don’t look too closely, it seems that I emerged triumphant this time as I kept most of the flowers from going to seed.  But sadly, there are many new sprouts showing up, proving that nature is relentless.

creeping-thistles-1440x700

and so on and so on …

“an ancient Celtic symbol of nobility of character as well as of birth, for the wounding or provocation of a thistle yields punishment” quote taken from wikipedia. This author is willing to abide such punishment for her purposeful actions against the sacred plant.

A quick little history lesson – It is said (by Wikipedia) that in ancient times, a Norse army was sneaking up on a Scottish encampment and had successfully come within striking distance unnoticed. One Norseman stepped on a thistle plant and cried out in pain, revealing their position and alerting the Scots. Thereafter, the Scots held the thistle  in high regard.

Hmmm…perhaps I too should revere the thistle as it is keeping the Queendom safe from invading armies (of zombies?)

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